Sunday, February 14, 2016

Genesis 11: Old testament Survey

Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel  and the line o Shem down to Abraham.


Most of us are at least familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel, and many have seen Pieter Bruegel’s painting (below) of the monstrous ziggurat that the people of Babel, a city founded by Nimrod, as we saw in the previous post.  The actual story of this ambitious project is part of what we will be looking at today as we recap Genesis 11..

A Ziggurat , according to Merriam-Webster is an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top; also :  a structure or object of similar form.  The Tower of Babel was to have been the Ziggurat of all Ziggurats. Kind of like a religious Burj Al Khalifa on the plain of Shinar.

What follows is a clear demonstration that God sees a great deal of danger in any kind of one world government.  At that time, all people spoke the same language. They had decided together to build this ziggurat, which is a pagan religious building, one that would reach up to heaven, so they could make a name for themselves.

In verse 5, Jerusalem Bible, it reads “ Now Yahweh came down from heaven to see the town and the tower that the sons of man had built. “So, they are all a single people with the same language!” said Yahweh. “This is but the start of their undertakings! There will be nothing too hard for them to do.  Come, let US go down and confuse their language on the spot so that they can no longer understand one another.”  Yahweh scattered them thence over the whole face of the earth and they stopped building the town.

I want to put a parentheses in here and point out that when God made his decision to confuse the language and scatter the people, he referred to Himself as US. Once again, the concept of a triune Godhead emerges in the the text of the Old Testament.

Now why would God be so upset about the people building such a tower and then achieving anything they wanted to?  It was actually an act of mercy on His part. He was well aware that they would cease to consider Him, much less rely on Him. In so doing, a structure would emerge, where they would fall into servitude, eventually to one man, and would follow their own whims to their destruction, and that of others. It would be so easy, as we have seen in history for one man to sweep everyone up, and have them worship him, instead of Yahweh.

In the song “God Part 3” Christian Singer songwriter Larry Norman penned the words  “I don’t believe in Esperanto, or the dreams of Babylon, If we all spoke the same language, long ago we would have built the bomb.” .

Today we are coming close to a world where English , as opposed to Esperanto has become the global common language. Technology has exploded, and we are beginning to see that good intentions notwithstanding (as many of the people of Babel no doubt had) th world is moving into a period where a dominant culture is emerging and may very well become a universal culture, manipulated by a very select few, and as history has shown, in such cases, attempts are made for one man to deify himself, and God’s people are always marginalized and persecuted.  We shall see examples of this in the Books of Daniel and II Maccabees as we move through this survey.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to yet another section of  genealogy. Shem, the eldest, and seemingly most favoured son of Noah’s line is laid out for us, and the way it is done illustrates God’s making good on His promise to reduce human lifespans.  If we look back at chapter 6, we will see that God decides to cut the human lifespan down from often over 900 years to eventually the range of 120 years. They would become fathers much earlier too.  I am going to go through this list for a couple of reasons. First, this is the line from which Joseph and Mary came from, and thus, the line of Jesus. Second, Abraham would become he father of the Jewish People, through whom God would progressively reveal Himself to the world.  and third,  because it illustrates how God carried  out His promise in chapter 6 when he resolved to reduce lifespans. Noah lived a total of 950 years as we saw in Chapter 9 and fathered Shem , Ham and Japheth beginning in his 500th year. His son Shem, as we shall see would begin the trend of diminishing lifespans, and earlier fatherhood, and the trend accelerates quickly. Verse 10 in the Jerusalem Bible tells us:  When Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arpachshad. Shem lived 500 years, and became the father of sons and daughters. In verse 12, we learn that  When Arpachshad  was 35 years old, he became the father of Shelah. After the birth of Shelah, Arpachshad lived 403 years and became the father of sons and daughters. When we do the math, we see that Arpachshad died 38 years after Shem, His Verse 14 i says that Shelah was 30 years old when he became the father of Eber. After the birth of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and became the father of sons and daughters.  The math on this one shows that Shelah died 30 years after his father. Then Eber was 34 years old when his son Peleg was born, and would live another 430 years after Peleg was born. Now here’s where we start seeing a precipitous decline in lifespan. Peleg became the father of Reu when he was 30 years old, which means that his father  Eber would have been 64 at that time.  We are told that Peleg lived 209 years after the birth of Reu (and had other offspring) so when Peleg died, his father Eber would have been 273 years old while Peleg’s son Reu would have been 179 at the time,of Peleg’s passing Now Reu was 30 years old when he became the father of Serug , and Reu would live 207 years after Serug was born, which would mean that Serug would have been 149 when his grandfather  Peleg died and when Eber his great grandfather was 273 years old. Reu would live another 58 years after the death of Peleg, so at the time of Reu’s death, his grandfather Eber would have still been living at the age of 331. Serug, became the father of Nahor when he was 30 years old. Therefore at the time of Peleg’s passing, Nahor would have been 119 Serug lives 200 years after the birth of Nahor, which means he would have died  at the age of 230. Poor old Eber , though would have now watched 4 generations of his offspring die, as he would have been 412 when Serug passed on.  We are told that Nahor lived a total of 148 years, which indicates that Serug would have buried him, 52 years before his own death, with Eber now looking at 5 generations predeceasing him. Nahor became he father of Terah at age 29. he would live 119 yeas after the birth of Terah.  Terah became a father at age 70, and his sons were Abram (eventually to become the great patriarch Abraham) Nahor and Haran.  Terah would have been 98 when Nahor passed away, and at that point  Abram and his brothers would have been born, while Serug and  Old Eber were still alive. Eber did not have to bury Terah, as Terah lived to the age of 205.


As stated earlier, Terah had two other sons in addition to Abram. These were Nahor, whose descendants will play a bog role later, and Haran, who died while they still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, which is in modern day Iraq. While there, Abram married Sarai, who was barren, and Nahor married Milcah.  Haran had been married and became the father of Lot, who will be featured prominently in the next chapters, and whose descendants  also  play a major role.

The chapter ends with Terah, with Abram, Sarai and Lot in tow, moving on from Ur of the Chaldeans to a place called Haran where Terah would spend he rest of his days. But for Abram, the journey had only just begun. Though He did not know it at the time, God had huge plans for him.
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